Shelby Lum / Lantern photographer
On the final day of the regular season, the Ohio State baseball team (31-25, 11-13 Big Ten) clinched the final spot in the Big Ten Tournament, but the scene was far from picturesque. The Buckeyes were swept in their final three regular-season series against Indiana, but advanced to the conference tournament because they held a tiebreaker advantage after finishing in the three-way tie for the final spot with Illinois and Minnesota.
OSU coach Greg Beals said he was unaware of the tie-breaker scenario and thought the season had ended after his team’s Saturday loss against Indiana.
“I did think it was over when we lost,” Beals said. “It was a crazy two-minute period of time when you go from trying to figure out how to tie the game up, then we lose and figuring out what I’m going to say to these guys.”
Then, Beals got the good news.
“I was met by Brett (Rybak), our (sports information director), and he tells us we’re in,” Beals said.
Following this past weekend’s conference action, the Buckeyes had the best record of the three teams against common Big Ten opponents and won the tiebreaker.
Sophomore first baseman Josh Dezse said it was incredible to find out the team made it in the Big Ten Tournament.
“We thank God we got into this tournament,” Dezse said. “When we found out at the end of the game, we thought we were out and it was not pretty. When we found out we were in there, we couldn’t help but smile even though we were just swept. It was kind of weird because we didn’t know what to do, what coach was thinking. Do we smile? Are we happy or are we not happy? We had mixed emotions.”
Players said it was tough playing the Indiana series and they didn’t stay loose as they had throughout the season.
“All season we’ve played loose and felt that’s when we play our best baseball,” said sophomore outfielder Tim Wetzel. “Lately we haven’t been doing that. We’ve been pressing a little too hard and you can’t do that in this game. You have to play loose and fast and that’s what we’re going to try to do this tournament.”
The Buckeyes finished the regular season with the most walks (264), sacrifice flies (31) and stolen bases (84) in the Big Ten. In addition to team accomplishments, Dezse was named to the John Olerud watch list for the best two-way player in the nation.
“It’s like having two players in one,” Beals said about Dezse, who is the team’s first baseman and closer. “You have a limited number of scholarships and when you’re putting a team together, it’s really huge.”
Dezse hit .305 with five home runs and 32 RBI, all of which were second-best on the team. Dezse led the team in saves with seven and also posted a 3.08 ERA.
Sophomore pitcher John Kuchno led the Buckeyes in wins with an 8-3 record. However, sophomore pitcher Jaron Long led the team in ERA among starters with 2.29 and was the Buckeyes’ Friday night starter throughout Big Ten play.
“He’s our guy and he’s proven that he’s our guy,” Beals said. “He’s earned the respect and confidence of our team. We knew that he had the ability and that he has a knack for knowing how to pitch.”
The Buckeyes came into the season with what Beals said were “ramped-up expectations.” Beals said before the season, the team watched the movie “Miracle” and players drew inspiration from the story and will use it in the Big Ten Tournament.
“With the U.S.A. team, I just keep going back to what did they have to lose,” Dezse said. “They had nothing to lose. Same with us, make us the underdog, whatever. We’re here to play and we’re here to win. We have enough talent here that we’ll be just fine.”
The Buckeyes’ first game of the tournament is at 3:35 p.m. on Wednesday at Huntington Park in downtown Columbus. The Buckeyes’ second game will be based on the result of their game and the result of the noon game between Nebraska and Michigan State.